The words "soda fountain" and "malt shop" conjure potent cultural images: actress Lana Turner being "discovered" while sitting on a counter stool at Schwab's; "Grease" protagonists Danny and Sandy meeting the Pink Ladies at the Frosty Palace; comic strip characters Archie and Veronica hanging with Reggie and Betty at Pop Tate's Chocklit Shoppe; and countless scenes in countless 1950s-era movies and TV shows involving countless waitresses and "soda jerks" who cracked wise and helped move the romance along.
Our mental images may hail from the mid-20th century, but, according to Adam Ried, author of "Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes" (W.W. Norton, 2009), the milkshake dates back to the 1850s, when it was a concoction made of milk, sugar, ice, egg and whiskey, and served to thirsty adults. In the 1880s, a "malt powder" was developed as a tonic for sickly infants, and at some point, says Ried, the milkshake's path converged with that of the "malted," the shake lost its booze, and this creamy milk drink became a popular treat for young and old.
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As so often happens in food history, technology came along and added a boost: Ried chronicles the 1911 debut of the Hamilton Beach Drink Mixer, the 1922 invention of the blender, and the advent, later in that decade, of Freon refrigeration, which resulted in automated ice cream manufacturing. The year 1922 also saw the crucial moment when a Walgreens soda jerk named Ivar "Pop" Coulson blended two scoops of vanilla ice cream into a chocolate malt: the birth of the modern milkshake. It was only a matter of time before Archie, Danny, Sandy and the rest converged.
A new book called "Malts & Milkshakes" by pastry chef Autumn Martin offers 60 variations on the creamy drink, all of them perfect for summer. It's got shakes with booze in them (a nod to the original, perhaps) and shakes made with peanut butter and jelly, apple pie filling, espresso, passion fruit and more. But, being an old-school milkshake lover, my favorites are the old-school flavors: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Especially strawberry.
Although Martin says her strawberry shake could be made with frozen berries, there's nothing like making it with fresh berries at the peak of ripeness.
The strawberry shake, like all of the others in Martin's book, should be made using the following tips:
Do not overmix. Over-mixing, says Martin, results in a thin shake. To keep this from happening, use soft ice cream that's easy to scoop. Place it on your counter for 5 to 10 minutes before using it. Soft ice cream will blend more quickly. Also, use the "pulse" button on the blender, just until the ice cream is combined with the milk.
Serve shakes and malts in chilled glasses. Put glasses in the freezer for 20 minutes before serving. (Note: Although milkshakes are traditionally served in 12-ounce fountain glasses, Martin recommends using 6-ounce juice glasses. An excellent idea for portion control.)
Don't add too much milk. If you are a fan of thicker shakes, omit some of the milk called for in the recipe. When adding less milk, it is even more important to use soft ice cream.
Use high-quality ingredients.